A recent report from the Trussell Trust highlighted the shocking number of vulnerable people – particularly children – going hungry and relying on food banks. Human Rights Watch condemned a shocking rise in food bank usage in the UK as a human rights failure, with a record 1.6 million food parcels handed out in the last year.
Meanwhile, obesity rates continue to rise. For those barely able to feed themselves, often the only affordable options come from processed supermarket food and fast food restaurants.
The right to food is a fundamental human right that hundreds of thousands of Brits are denied every single day. Government must do more, but business, and individuals have to play a role too.
In Mercato Metropolitano, visitors sit and enjoy fresh, simply-prepared and locally-sourced ingredients transformed into beautiful dishes from around the world. Beyond its walls though, many are not so lucky; so, its directors, employees and traders feel an obligation to help, through an ideology of supportive development.
How do we shift from a culture of cheap food, which doesn’t provide good basic nutrition, to healthy eating for everyone? Clearly, we need to mobilise at to start, working in collaboration with business, government and people-led non-government organisations.
Of MM’s almost 50 trading partners, many are only able to operate thanks to its incubator ecosystem, giving food start-ups a chance to thrive in the often-hostile world of running a restaurant, who in turn provide employment opportunities for the local community.
MM and its trading partners also support their community through free holiday lunch clubs, which deal with the growing problem of ‘holiday hunger’ for children who rely on school lunches for a hearty meal. MM also runs cookery classes for these same disadvantaged children, as well as for carers and refugees, giving the latter key skills that can held lead to employment.
But being a positive force for change in Elephant & Castle alone isn’t enough to change the world. The challenges go deeper, and MM’s founder, Andrea Rasca, has much bigger ambitions for the city, the country and the planet.
His plan is to create a movement which we can all join, rather than be left feeling powerless.
I am one of MM’s first ‘aMMbassadors’. We are a group of expert individuals looking to collaborate on ways to feed the world in a way that is healthy and sustainable for the planet.
There are a few basic principles I have picked up from MMs work so far, and which might form the basis for action.
First, we must press all those involved in education policy to reintroduce the teaching of basic knowledge and cooking skills in schools, with the support of those involved in the local food supply chain, local authorities and food and drink sector businesses.
Their support could supplement educational programmes by actively contributing relevant ideas and long-term projects. We can all help to teach children from a young age that it is possible, and right, to grow, cook and eat good food.
Second, we must do much better in controlling food waste. There is 10.2 million tonnes of post-farm food waste, which mus be properly managed as part of the food supply chain, ideally drawing on the capacities and skills of those who need it most. Much more can be done by everybody from restaurants, to supermarkets, to everyday homeowners to recycle their food waste. If we cut down food waste globally by just one quarter, that will be enough to feed everybody on the planet.
Finally, we must all get behind small scale producers, in London and beyond, eating seasonal fruit and vegetables when we can, and supporting urban gardens, like the one MM already has. We should help increase the space for these initiatives so that more of us participate in the food cycle, rather than passively accepting what the biggest distributors serve up.
If any of this makes sense to you, please check out MM’s Manifesto, As a long-time local resident and regular customer at MM, I am really proud that the movement starts here. It’s a wonderful part of our community, and I hope that it is a movement that will spread more widely.
Ann Grant is a former diplomat and British High Commissioner to South Africa
MM is inviting people, companies and policymakers across London, the UK and the world to join the movement to change food culture in the country. This is an open invitation for people who believe in:
Healthy, sustainable, living food made with rural, artisanal practices
Supply chains that prioritise quality over price and make good, healthy food available
The importance of community in cities across the world, starting with London